The Class Struggle

The Dividing Line

It has been urged against our position that it is impossible to draw a clear line of demarcation between the classes, and, therefore, any theory that starts out with the assumption that society is ccomposed of two classes, must necessarily be wrong in its application to the problems of society. Even if it were true, however, that it is impossible to sharply divide society into two opposing classes, that would not invalidate the theory, as I shall endeavour to show.

The biological world is divided into two kingdoms : the animal kingdom and the vegetable kingdom. That division is true and scientifically sound, nowithstanding the fact that there exist organisms which present difficuly in classification. The mere fact that they possess the characteristics, or some of the characteristics, of one, does not prevent them belonging to the other if they possess its distinguishing feature. The decisive factor biologically, is whether the organism consumes ready-made protoplasm, in which case it is unmistakably animal; or whether it lives by the consumption of those inorganic chemical elements which it changes into protoplasm, in which case it is clearly vegetable. Organisms which, like the hydra, have all the appearance of vegetables, but which, living by the absorption of matter already transformed by the true vegetables, are classed, therefore, as animals. Other creatures, again, seen under the microscope, appear, by their ceaseless movement, to be animals; yet, measured by the acknowledged test, prove to be vegetables. Nevertheless, the existence of “borderland,” where the two kingdoms mingle into what is to the outsider hopeless confusion, does not invalidate the division. So in society. The existence of a “middle” class will not invalidate the division the Socialist draws, if a test can be made that will differentiate the constituent elements of that section into one or other of the classes. If, then, we define a capitalist as one living on the labour of others through his control of the means of production (that is, the possession of capital); and a workman as one living by the sale of his labour-power to the possessor of the means of production, we shall be able to decide whether any of the individuals in the “borderland” belong to one class or the other.

The Conflict of Interests

Actually, however, this clear line of demarcation is not necessary, as for all ordinary purposes the division is plain enough, and the exactness will only be needed by those who have developed what might be called the outlook of the microscopist; for he, intent upon the tiny details of minute organisms, does not so readily take the more general view. So the individual, himself probably belonging to the “middle” class, is more intent upon the exact classification of doubtful cases than in the broader outlook which would make the division palpable.

And when we have satisfied ourselves that society is composed of two classes, we have to look further into the differences between them. The capitalist lives by the purchase of labour-power, which he employs in the production of certain commodities. The wealth then produced is divided into two parts : wages, and surplus-value. Contained in that, surplus-value is the profit on which the capitalist lives. Any increase, therefore, in the quantity of profit means inevitably a like decrease in the quantity remaining for wages, and vice-versa. The object of the worker is to get the highest price possible for his labour-power ; the object of the capitalist is to realise as much profit as possible. In this fundamental economic relationship lies the main-spring of the class struggle. That struggle is being waged unremittingly irrespective of whether the combatants are fully conscious of it or not. That struggle is, to the Socialist, the moving force in history. It arises, as we have seen, from the fact that the means of production, which are the means of life, are in the possession of those who do not use them, except as a means for the exploitation of those who do not possess them.

Class Consciousness

“The emancipation of the working class from the domination of the capitalist class” can be effected only by the “conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.” So reads the “Declaration of Principles.” The conversion will not conceivably be made by the capitalist class, because their interest lies in the direction of retaining their privileges, which they may safely be relied upon to uphold to the last ditch. The interest of the workers lies in the direction of stripping privilege from the capitalist class: therefore in a direction opposed to that of the capitalist class. From this antagonism of interests arises the class struggle. The efforts of the workers to gain an improvement in their conditions, whether it be in the direction of higher wages or shorter hours, or in opposition to any of the disabilities imposed by the capitalist system, and the resistence of the masters to any such demand, manifest the struggle between the classes. When the workers’ efforts are directed towards the ending, rather than the mending, of capitalist conditions of industry, we see manifested a consciousness by the workers of their position, and the struggle takes on a new phase—a phase altered by the introduction of “class-consciousness.”

The Conditions of Succesful Conflict

For generations the working-class have battled class-unconsciously for improvements, but despite the heroism occasionally shown, despite the effort that have been devoted to the endeavour times without number, the working-class position has not improved, but has steadily worseneci with the development of capitalism, for it cannot he denied that employment is more precarious than it has ever been ; unemployment is more prevalent and more lasting than formerly. Money wages may have increased in some cases over those paid at some former period, but measured by the increase in the productivity of labour, the greater frequency of unemployment, the increased expenditure necessitated by living at a distance from the factory, and the increasing cost of house-rent, it may safely be stated that the worker lives no fuller life than formerly, and enjoys life no more. Hours may, too, in some cases have been reduced, but measured again by the intensity of daily labour, and the rail journey between factory and home, the reduction in hours has by no means kept pace with capitalist development. The struggles of our forebears, then, have not solved our problems, however much they may have prevented us from sinking to a lower level, and mitigated the evil effects of capitalism. For the workers to fight on the old lines is impossible. They are no longer opposed to a competing mass of small capitalists, but to a highly organised and powerful class. The endeavours of the workers to meet that class in the old way on the economic field by means of the strike and the boycott meet with defeat, and must do so because, when the capitalist class is not sufficiently powerful to meet it successfully by its power as employers, it is always ready to call in the assistance of the political arm which it has long since controlled. In the political control by the capitalist class lies the centre of its power; yet the fact remains that political power is derived from the votes of the working class. With the working class rests ultimately the character of the government, because the workers control a majority of the votes cast at any General Election. For all these reasons, therefore, the struggle of the workers must take on a political character.

The Work of the Socialist Party

This truth has been imperfectly recognised already as is shown by the development of what is called “Independent” Labour Representation. That this movement has been and is being manipulated by a set of job-hunters must not blind us to its real significance, which lies in the fact that a political movement is growing which is becoming independent of the two historic parties under capitalism. Therein lies what may be taken as the first glimmering of class-consciousness. The shortcomings of that movement have been frequently dilated upon in THE SOCIALIST STANDARD, so that it less necessary for me to go into it now. As the constituent elements of that movement, and of the working class generally, become really class-conscious, and therefore Socialist, they will realise that the political independence of labour must rest upon the hostility of labour to all the forces of capitalism, and will either leave the present movement or bring it into line with their convictions by bringing themselves or it into The Socialist Party.

During the remainder of the life of capitalism the work of the Socialists is particularly to develop class-consciousness by explaining the class position of the workers in its relation to capitalism, by prosecuting, without intermission, the class-struggle ; while the nearer the Party keeps to the line of the class-struggle the greater will he its efficiency as a Socialist propagandist organisation, and the more effective will it be in generating class-consciousness. Because the Labour Party is in effect merely a wing of the Liberal Party, notwithstanding its protestations of independence, it does not answer the purpose of a working-class party either in encouraging the understanding of the working-class position, or in politically prosecuting the class-struggle. The Socialist Party must at all times, therefore, be opposed to it, and must spare no effort in pointing out to the workers that Socialism must be the goal of their organisation, and the class-struggle the guiding principle in its immediate work.

D. K.

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